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The Frozen Water Trade

We all tend to take home refrigeration for granted. I’m vaguely aware that people had iceboxes, and fresh ice delivered daily, but I’m not quite sure how that all took place. I got an old video out of the library here that showed how the various ice farmers would score and cut chunks of ice from the frozen lakes in the area and store them in big icehouses for the winter. The very last of these icemen were filmed in color.

This book is a meticulous look at how people first began to see ice as a product to be marketed rather than as a side effect of winter. It traces the history of the first ice baron, Boston’s Frederic Tudor, through decades of financial peril, emotional wreckage and international travel as he developed a business model, finagled for a business monopoly, and finally after much hard work, began delivering ice to far-off lands such as Calcutta, Cuba and Haiti. The book looks not only at the models of getting the ice, but also of creating a market for it -- how Tudor in cahoots with local businessmen actually created a demand for a product that people didn’t even “know” they wanted -- by offering discounts on iced drinks and introducing ice cream as a high-class leisure confection. The business was a sure thing: the ice was free, and people would pay for it. Weightman’s research is impressive and yet so are his storytelling abilities. As someone who grew up around some of the ponds he describes as early suppliers for Tudor, I found it very interesting.